Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

This one has been sitting on my shelf for several years.  When our book club chose it for the October meeting, I decided to get an early start.  I've read several books about the Japanese internment camps.  All have been written from the point of view of the Japanese.  But I knew little if anything about the impact of the Japanese-Chinese enmity resulting from centuries of cultural rivalry and fueled by the Japanese invasion of Chinese territory before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Henry, a 1st generation Chinese boy, born in the US, is sent by his parents to an all-white school where he is constantly confused with "the Japs". As a scholarship student, he is given a job in the kitchen, where he meets Keiko, a Japanese girl who is 2nd generation American.

Their bittersweet friendship, which Henry must keep from his parents, blossoms in spite of the fact that Keiko's family is rounded up and taken to a camp, first in Washington State, and later in Idaho.  Throughout the story, Henry is mentored by a black jazz musician who befriends both of these youngsters, helping them visit and stay in touch through the long war years.

The story opens in the 1980's, as Henry is searching through property left by Japanese in the Panama Hotel looking for a jazz recording that had been his and Keiko's song.  Told in a back and forth story between the 1940's and the 1980's we see how Henry confronts racial prejudice, how the war feelings of the era influenced everything that happened to both these young people.

Ford writes the story objectively and sympathetically from both sides.  The reader is presented with a tale that is at once hopeful and full of tears.  Without making judgement, Ford leaves the reader to decide whether there was a right or wrong, and who if anyone was at fault.  I'm thinking this will generate a really good discussion in a few weeks.

Author: Jamie Ford
Publisher-Format: Ballantine Books (2009), Paperback, 301 pages
Subject: Japanese internment during World War II; Japanese-Chinese relations Setting: Seattle area
Genre: historical fiction
Source: my own shelves (also library audio download)


  1. I loved this one! Please post what your bookclub thought of the book.

    1. I can't wait to see what everyone thinks of this one. It was such a special book.

  2. as I remember...it has been a long, long time...I loved thid one too. Love that cover as well.

  3. I added to my wish list. I really want to read it. Thank you for reviewing it.


Welcome, thanks for stopping by. Now that you've heard our two cents, perhaps you have a few pennies to throw into the discussion. Due to a bunch more anonymous spam getting through, I've had to disallow anonymous comments. I try to respond to all comments posing a question, but may not always get to you right away.